Cold Weather Tips for Protecting Your Pets

As winter weather really sets in, don't forget to help keep your pets happy, healthy, and safe.
Here are a few guidelines to help ensure your pet stays healthy.
  • Probably the best prescription for winter's woes is to keep your dog or cat inside with you and your family. The happiest dogs are those who are taken out frequently for walks and exercise but kept inside the rest of the time. Dogs and cats are social animals who crave human companionship. Your animal companions deserve to live indoors with you and your family.

  • The most important thing that pet owners can do for their pets in the winter is to provide adequate shelter. The weather can get dangerous for pets when they do not have a warm place to go. If the animal can sleep in the garage or a well-insulated dog house that's dry and draft-free, it could be fine down to zero degrees. All cats should never be left outside without supervision.

  • No matter how well-insulated the shelter or how healthy the pet, animals can suffer from cold-related problems if they are too cold for too long. Hypothermia can be severe in pets. When pets start suffering from hypothermia, they start acting very lethargic and don't move around much. If you notice these signs, take the animal to the veterinarian. If hypothermia gets a chance to really set in, the pet could die.

  • Another cold-related problem is frost bite. Frost bite is the same in animals as it is in humans. It's due to long exposure to extreme cold. The ears and feet of the animal have the greatest chance of being frost bit. These areas will be very cold and swollen. It can be very painful for the animal. If you suspect the pet has frost bite, take it to the veterinarian. The earlier you catch it, the better chance the vet has of saving the tissues involved. If frost bite is in the later stages, gangrene may set in and cause all kinds of infections.

  • Snow and ice can cause problems for the feet of the pet. It's a good idea for the owner to check the pets' feet when they come in from the snow. Sometimes, they have snowballs in the fur surrounding their feet or they could have cut their feet on the ice. If these things have happened, it's a good idea to wash off the area and dry it thoroughly to help ease any discomfort the pet may have.

  • Besides keeping the animal warm and clean, the pet owner may also have to change the eating habits of the pet during the winter. Outdoor pets use calories to generate heat in the wintertime. The rule of thumb is that the average outside dog will need about 25% more calories to generate the heat required just to keep warm. However, you should know that indoor pets' activity level is going to go down and it's best to cut their food back a bit so they don't gain weight.

  • It's also a good idea to keep an eye on the water bowl for outdoor pets. Water freezes very quickly in cold weather. Pets need a lot of water. If the pet is going to be outside, it's very important to put out warm water a few times a day to keep it from freezing. Also, use a tip-resistant, ceramic or hard plastic water bowl rather than a metal one, as your pet's tongue can stick and freeze to a cold metal.

  • Warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife, who may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car's hood to scare them away before starting your engine.

  • The salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your pet's feet. Wipe the feet with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritates his/her mouth.

  • Antifreeze is a deadly poison, but it has a sweet taste that may attract animals and children. Wipe up spills and store antifreeze (and all household chemicals) out of reach. Better yet, use antifreeze-coolant made with propylene glycol; if swallowed in small amounts, it will not hurt pets, wildlife, or your family.

  • Keep your pet's coat well groomed. Matted fur won't properly protect your pet from the cold.

  • Help your elderly or arthritic pets when they need to go outside.

  • Do not leave your pet alone in a car. It gets too cold and carbon monoxide from a running engine is dangerous.

  • Be careful of fireplaces and portable heaters; Keep fireplaces screened and heaters out of reach.

Tips compiled from information provided by Kansas State University School of Veterinary Medicine, ASPCA, and the Dumb Friends League